Prednisone is a synthetic corticosteroid which imitates the actions of cortisol, a natural steroid hormone that is secreted daily in the body. This drug effectively inhibits the secretion of inflammatory substances such as prostaglandins.1 Synthetic corticosteroids such as prednisolone (the active form of prednisone), cortisone and hydrocortisone are used to treat allergies, inflammation, autoimmune disease and certain forms of cancer.2
Corticosteroids are hormones naturally produced by the adrenal gland which sits above the kidney. Similar to humans, the most prevalent form of secreted corticosteroid is cortisol which is often referred to as a “stress hormone”. Although its secretion is increased significantly during stress, it is also an important and vital regulator of daily metabolic cycles governing the use and storage of carbohydrates, protein and fats. Corticosteroids also influence the body’s fluid and electrolyte levels and can participate in reducing the effects of inflammation.3 For example, these steroids prevent infection-fighting white blood cells from traveling to an inflamed area and exacerbating local swelling. Although the reduction in swelling is a positive effect, your dog may be more prone to infection while taking steroids. The anti-inflammatory properties of corticosteroids are also used to decrease swelling around tumors in the spine, brain, or bone which alleviates tumor pressure on nerve endings and relieves pain caused by the pressing tumor. This drug also works by altering the body’s normal immune system responses. Since cancerous growths involve some of the same components as immune cell flare ups, prednisone’s ability to suppress the body’s immune system helps to slow down the spread and reproduction of cancer cells.4
A low dose of prednisone reduces inflammation and allergic reactions while providing mild pain relief; whereas, a high dose suppresses the immune system and is used to treat autoimmune disease. It is also used for palliative care in dogs with cancer and helps to slow metastasis and stimulate red blood cell production while restoring appetite.2 Prednisone is used to treat the following ailments:5
It is important to follow your vet’s instructions for dose and administration schedule closely since this allows the drug to achieve its highest level of effectiveness.4
Prednisone and its active form are members of the cortisone family. Their excessive use in both pets and people has given them a bad reputation over the years, but if used cautiously and strategically, they are an effective treatment choice, especially for cancer. Cancer is often extremely aggressive and in order to get an edge on cancer progression while attempting to promote longevity and quality of life in our pets, a broad range of tools must be employed.6 Prednisone should only be used for a specific period of time.
Tell your veterinarian if any of the following are true:7
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet experiences any of the following symptoms:9
Short-term use of prednisone or prednisolone does not usually result in serious side effects; however, even a few doses of these medications may result in the following:
Prednisone or prednisolone administered at high doses or for long periods of time significantly increases the risk of experiencing the following reactions:9
Long-term use of these steroids increases the risk of adverse reactions that may lead to more serious health conditions such as Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency), Cushing’s disease, heart problems, obesity, and/or diabetes.10 Excessive use can also cause prednisone to interfere with the function of your dog’s own adrenal glands and immune system. Do not stop administering this steroid abruptly. Consult your veterinarian for a schedule that would allow a slow weaning off of the drug as appropriate for your dog’s condition.
If there has been an accidental overdose, go to your nearest veterinarian as soon as possible. Symptoms of a prednisone overdose can include:5
It is common for dogs to be on other medications that may adversely react with prednisone so it is important to inform your vet about all medications or supplements that you give to your pet. Prednisone and prednisolone can both result in harmful reactions with the medications listed below:8
When prednisone is used with drugs that act as diuretics such as Amphotericin B, your dog may suffer from electrolyte imbalance due to the loss of calcium and potassium. It is important that your pet’s potassium level be carefully monitored if taking more than one diuretic drug.8
Although prednisone is often included in a multidrug therapy protocol (MDT), DO NOT use this steroid too soon, especially during the diagnosis of canine lymphoma. Prednisone actually kills lymphoma cells and is prescribed as part of most lymphoma treatment protocols; however, this drug should only be used AFTER your oncologist has confirmed your dog’s diagnosis.11 The reasons for waiting before using prednisone are as follows:12
Because of these side effects, you may ask for alternatives to the medicine. There are other corticosteroids such as dexamethasone or triamcinolone, but be sure to consult with your veterinarian before making a change in the medication.